The nation of Samoa is experiencing a massive epidemic. Thousands of its populace have contracted the measles, with dozens dying from the disease since the outbreak began in October.
Amid this crisis and tragedy, a New Zealand newspaper thought it would be okay to make light of the situation with a cartoon.
The internet disagreed.
Whoever printed this for Otago Daily Times! SHAME ON YOU 💔🇼🇸 https://t.co/AdMk4I68MT— Jamie (@Jamie) 1575342480.0
In the cartoon published by the Otago Daily Times, two women are seen leaving a travel agency. One explains she asked what the "least popular spots" would be.
The agent had responded,
"The ones people are picking up in Samoa."
Just as a reminder, this joke is poking fun at an epidemic that has taken the lives of over 50 people, most of whom are children.
Readers were not amused.
50 babies picked up those spots and died, Otago Daily Times. https://t.co/lrQLScR9ow— Sita Leota (@Sita Leota) 1575332090.0
Pure ignorance. Offensive in the extreme. Shame on you Otago Daily Times. https://t.co/4VdPOt9Y1n— Rachel Taulelei (@Rachel Taulelei) 1575341636.0
This is terrible, ODT. What a shameful assault on the cartoonist's art - and on empathy, decency, human feeling, an… https://t.co/38fCHYucRI— John Campbell (@John Campbell) 1575337703.0
Sāmoa has to shut down all public and government services this week to assist with a vaccination campaign on the is… https://t.co/48J1PDVxyN— Terisa Siagatonu (@Terisa Siagatonu) 1575346823.0
The backlash against the Times was swift and harsh. Many called out the cartoonist, Garrick Tremain for his history of offensive cartoons.
ODT, for their part apologized for printing it, saying "The content and the timing of the cartoon were insensitive..."
Today the Otago Daily Times published a cartoon making reference to the measles crisis in Samoa. The content and ti… https://t.co/Fe2fZl6Vjb— ODT Online (@ODT Online) 1575343675.0
Protesters didn't feel this apology went far enough. More than 40 people gathered outside the doors of the Otago Daily Times, calling for Tremain to be fired.
Sina Brown-Davis, a protest leader said,
"This cartoonist has a long history of racist tropes which denigrate not only Samoan people, but Maori people as well. He's made a career of it."
She also called the apology "half baked."
Since then, the Times has promised they are revising their review standards and will not be running anything by Tremain until they have an improved selection process.
For some people, this was too little too late.
@vaiala @odtnews Stop acting surprised @odtnews youve given racism and hate a platform for a long time! https://t.co/LoA7BMDwI0— Teuila Faleuila (@Teuila Faleuila) 1575346562.0
While we bury our friends & Family’s a NZ publication Otago Daily Times @odtnews decide printing jokes about the me… https://t.co/gKOpY8IrId— Daniel Leo (@Daniel Leo) 1575350683.0
Just a reminder that Garrick Tremain has a long long history of racist and sexist cartoons. And yet he still has a… https://t.co/AW9gOYNHnf— Sarah 🏳️🌈 (@Sarah 🏳️🌈) 1575339146.0
Nearly 4000 people have been diagnosed with measles in Samoa, with 53 deaths caused by the disease since the outbreak began. 48 of those are children under the age of five.
The island nation has been the target of an anti-vaccine campaign that gained steam in 2018 due to the deaths of two children. They were given a wrongly mixed vaccine, one that was mixed with an expired muscle relaxant instead of water.
After this, infant vaccination rates dropped to only 31 percent.
The death toll in Samoa has risen to 55, with another two children confirmed to have died overnight. There’s also b… https://t.co/KBE0jeau5r— Michael Morrah (@Michael Morrah) 1575327702.0
Latest update: 3,881 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak with 153 recorded in the last 24 hours. To… https://t.co/G1JIkk7nkr— Government of Samoa (@Government of Samoa) 1575327641.0
NEW: CDC is sending experts to help this tiny Pacific island fight a deadly and growing measles outbreak where 32 c… https://t.co/HZuROo0wg2— LenaSun (@LenaSun) 1574812213.0
What offends/hurts me about the Tremain cartoon is that for the editor/staff at @odtnews Samoa is just a holiday de… https://t.co/S9TyI0EtLR— Gina Rangi (@Gina Rangi) 1575432433.0
Worldwide cases of measles tripled in the first three months of 2019. Places where the disease was nearly eradicated have seen a resurgence in reported cases.
The measles is more than just a fever and rash. The disease is very dangerous for the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
Because of this, it's important everyone who can gets vaccinated. Though, convincing people might be difficult with the disinformation campaign that has found new strength online.
The Samoan government has declared a state of emergency and shut down non-essential processes while they try to vaccinate their country. All focus on government resources is going into vaccinations.
They have been able to get to more than a quarter of their population, but it's still a long road to the 90% vaccination rate that will protect their populace. New Zealand's foreign affairs minister has promised to assist with nurses and medical teams.